Farming life in Iceland’s barren valleys is full of beauty, but not easy – something writer-director Grímur Hákonarson conveys with humour in Rams. Visually arresting and lyrical, the film is a reflection on loneliness, passion, and fraternity, set in one of the world’s most remote places.
Brothers Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) and Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) haven’t spoken to each other for forty years, despite being neighbours. Each manages his distinct sheep farming operation. Their cold war is revived when Gummi comes to suspect that both of their flocks are infected by Scrapie. Kiddi is unforgiving of his brother’s discovery, and their community and their lives collapse as the sheep are culled en masse. There is a real sense of loss as their life’s work is cast away – as a precaution.
Rams is full of surprises: starting off in the tone of a social tragedy (the valley’s livelihood is being taken away), it takes an unexpected turn into dark humour as the brothers’ feud escalates. Kiddi is a grumpy alcoholic who doesn’t hold off from violently threatening his brother, while Gummi, calm and placid, fends off his opponent’s moves with heartless pragmatism. Júlíusson and Sigurjónsson give powerful performances – the former a ball of rage, at times frightening, at others pathetic, while the latter is full of nuance in his numerous solo scenes. Although Gummi barely speaks, Sigurjónsson makes his thoughts easy to read and captures our sympathy entirely.
Hákonarson finds rather unexpected ways to push his characters to the limit while the farming community, the local vet, and passers-by watch – at times helpless, at other times amused. The director also captures the valley’s seasons beautifully, from the gorgeously bright verdant fields of summer to the ice-capped mountains of winter.
As soon as we find ourselves accustomed to Hákonarson’s deadpan humour, the film flicks again, this time into the realm of personal tragedy. It’s hard not to feel sorrow watching the men spending lonely Christmases, or hearing fellow farmers despair of how dull (and difficult) life will be without the animals. This is accentuated by Atli Örvarsson’s solo piano soundtrack. In a surprisingly touching conclusion, the brothers finally collude, with stirring and tragic consequences.
Rams is a quirky tragicomedy, full of creative plot turns, and is strengthened by Sigurjónsson and Júlíusson’s perceptive performances.